Dream Foundry Content Manager Jen Grogan sat down with Becca over email recently to chat with them about art, the gaming industry, and pickled vegetables.
You can see more of Becca’s work at beccahallstedtdesign.com.
How did you start out as a concept artist?
I’ve been drawing since I was very young, and I discovered concept art in high school through Tumblr, Youtube, and Blogspot sites. I actually originally went to an industrial design school because that’s what all my favorite artists studied — folks like Feng Zhu, Daniel Dociu, and others —but I got bored of drawing hairdryers and shoes, so I transferred up to a game college program after three semesters.
My first job in games was as a paid 2D art intern at a local studio. I cold-emailed them asking if they would consider hiring a junior concept artist, and they got back to me less than a day later because they happened to need a Photoshop guru to help with GDC (Game Developers Conference) marketing materials. It was total happenstance. They slowly gave me more responsibility and I got some experience with UI art and visual development. My experience there led to my first true concept art job at Netherrealm.
What’s your favorite kind of work in the industry, and why?
I love creature design. I genuinely enjoy doing a variety of tasks like environment and prop design or character development, but creatures are the most fun for me. I think they always will be.
What’s your least favorite?
I don’t have a specific task that comes to mind, but it can be very frustrating to work with folks that struggle to give honest or clear critique. The way that peers provide constructive feedback can make or break a job to me. I’d much rather work a job with less interesting tasks around people who communicate well than take on a gig with exciting assignments that involves consistently frustrating or confusing critique.
What’s something you didn’t know about the field before you got into it?
Everyone knows each other, so don’t burn bridges if you can help it. This starts day one in game development, whether that’s in college or in a job. Soft skills and being self-aware are super, super important, and those things tend to be heavily underemphasized in general. Learning how to be empathetic, generous, and proactive will always do you more good than being stingy and paranoid. When applying to a job, I send that same opening to friends that need work all the time. Either of us getting it is a win. Working together and being benevolent does surprising, wonderful things in this industry.
What do you think would surprise people about your day-to-day routine as an artist?
I only actually work about twenty-five billable hours each week as a freelance artist, but I still manage to be busy all the time. Same goes for all my freelance friends locally. I think people assume that every freelancer works about forty hours/week, but so much work has to go into administrative stuff that you don’t get paid for. Things like keeping up asocial media presence (all my work comes from Twitter,) emailing future clients, networking, keeping my portfolio updated, creating personal work so I have new pieces to show, and so forth take up a LOT of hours.
When you’re designing a new creature or other element, how do you start out? What kind of direction are you given from the client, and how do you go from there?
The specificity of the prompt varies heavily by task and client. Sometimes they know exactly what they want and, even if I as the designer don’t think the idea is strong, it’s my job to make the design look awesome. Other times, I’m handed really vague prompts with a lot of creative freedom. I like having a mix. Having heavy constraints and having a vague task each have their own unique challenges that are fun to tackle.
I can’t overemphasize how much time goes into research and rough sketching when starting something new. Sometimes the sketch or lineart of the final design will only take fifteen to thirty minutes, but the prep work that goes into that drawing can take hours or days. The biggest lesson I’ve learned in the last year was to slow down and give those early stages a lot of time rather than trying to rush through them. Clients always prefer a badass final design that took an extra day over a quick, uninformed, unfinished idea.
How much backstory do you have in mind when you’re doing creature or character design, whether for yourself or for a client?
I think in context rather than about story. I like to imagine the circumstance of the creature while I’m painting rather than setting it all in stone before starting because I think that results in some very organic, interesting elements in the design. If I try to put all the pieces together before I even start sketching, I get frustrated and feel too restrained.
When I say context rather than story, I mean that I focus more on the personality, surrounding environment, and interactions this creature has on a regular basis instead of their life story. Sometimes once I have that context nailed down, I naturally work backwards and a more specific backstory comes from it.
What kinds of questions or thoughts lead your worldbuilding process? For instance, do you think about where a creature fits in an ecological niche, or more about what role they’ll play in a game or story?
I really try to ground my ideas in believability. I’ve historically struggled with storytelling, which results in a confusing design that viewers don’t know how to place in the world. I have found over time that it’s better to latch onto a few “cliché” aspects for a design and execute it elegantly rather than rejecting the obvious solutions entirely and making something the observer can’t understand. Embrace some of the obvious!Just make sure you insert your own unique voice into it.
What one piece of advice would you give to younger artists who want to get a start in the industry?
Take yourself seriously. No one else will treat you like a professional until you do it first. People treated me like a pro my junior year of college because I did my best to speak and behave as one, and that got me jobs. Don’t be an aspiring artist or a student artist. Just be a damn artist.
I saw on your website that you like to pickle vegetables — what’s your favorite? Do you have any tips or a recipe that you could share with us?
My two favorites are beets as well as sweet and spicy peppers. Use organic ingredients because the quality difference is HUGE. I usually wing it instead of going off a written recipe but here’s my basic approach…
Becca’s Good-As-Hell Beets:
- 3 beets, skinned and boiled (you cannot over boil beets, so be patient until they’re easy to go through with a fork)
- 2 sprigs of fresh organic rosemary (do not use dried, it sucks)
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/4 thinly sliced organic Vidalia onion
- 3 cloves of smashed garlic
- 1 1/4 cups apple cider vinegar
- 3/4 cup cup water
- 2 teaspoon salt
Put primary ingredients in large glass jar like this one, distributed evenly. They should come to the top and fill the jar entirely. Bring brine just to a rolling boil and pour into the jar over the contents up to the very rim and refrigerate. Wait two or more days before eating. Great on crackers with sour cream and dill. Good for up to two weeks in the fridge. Save the leftover brine to reuse or for pickled hard-boiled eggs.
Best of luck out there, y’all.